Founder Cami Ross discusses the science behind making her perfect caramels for Chicago Literati

Based in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Bad Habit Caramels is one of the most buzzed-about artisanal candy businesses that launched this year. Following the company’s successful October 26th launch party at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Bad Habit Caramels began receiving a steady influx of orders from all across the country that shows little to no signs of slowing down.

In this exclusive interview meet the resourceful founder, Cami Ross, and get to know a little bit more about the craft of making caramels and what flavors Ross and her staff of talented chefs are serving up this holiday season.

Interview after the jump. 

Lisa Gavan (c) 2014
Cami Ross (c) 2014

 What drew you into the artisanal caramel business?

I fell into the candy business very much by accident. My family has been in the candy business for years, and I had never even considered it as a career option. Several years ago I decided I wanted to try my hand and make my holiday gifts, and I fell upon a recipe for soft caramels. The lucky few who received them told me I should go into business, and it took a lot of people saying it to me a lot of times before it got through that it was an option for me. Since then I’ve changed the recipe, tweaked it, added some new flavors, tweaked the new flavors, and after enough experiments I had a solid product and felt confident that I could start a successful business.

In your opinion, what sets caramels above other candies like toffee or peppermint bark?

I would almost put our soft caramels into a different category than a lot of candies. I often think of them like cookies, which probably doesn’t make sense in anyone else’s head but my own, but they’re soft and smooth. They can be sweet or salty, but they catch the subtleties of the flavors we put alongside them. Our caramels carry their own weight, but at the same time they make an excellent dance partner for bacon. We often joke around and say what beer or coffee we would pair with the caramels, but then we realize that it would be a darn good combination. They definitely play well with others.

 

What challenges do you face when making a batch of caramels? 

Lisa Gavan (c) 2014
Lisa Gavan (c) 2014

The process of making caramels is very scientific. There is a lot of chemistry involved and the temperature needs to be just right. We’ve gone through different thermometers, different pots, even different spoons to get things to behave the way they should. On one occasion, after leaving the caramels to set, we returned to our kitchen—a shared space—to find that someone had turned the temperature up to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, ruining 25 pounds of caramel! Temperature is definitely our best friend and – at times – our worst enemy.

Tell our readers a little more about what flavors you offer.

We have six flavors to choose from. First is the Original Vanilla, which is my personal favorite, both because it is so soft and delicious, but also because I’ve worked on that recipe for so long. It’s my baby. Next we have the Salted, which—you guessed it—is our Original Vanilla caramel covered in pink Himalayan sea salt. It adds just the right contrast to the sweetness. Next we have Coffee, and we source our Colombian coffee from our friends at a local, socially conscious shop right down the street called The Ugly Mug Cafe and Roastery. They worked with us to test different coffee beans from around the world to find the right blend with the perfect notes to complement the sweetness of the caramel. Our Chai flavor has our own house blend of organic spices that makes you feel just like you have a warm, spicy chai latte. For our Bourbon flavor, we blend our vanilla recipe with Bulleit bourbon—and some other secret ingredients—to get a great combination of the subtle, woody flavors of the bourbon and the smooth vanilla of the caramel. Finally, our Bacon flavor is made with bourbon-smoked bacon from Brooks Meats Butcher Shop and Deli in Kentucky that we candy and mix in with the caramel. That’s another one that caters to the salt tooth, and we especially wanted to make sure we had a quality bacon to really round out the flavor.

Lisa Gavan (c) 2014
Cami Ross (c) 2014

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

It’s so fulfilling to be building something of my own. I never saw myself as working for someone else, but I also had no idea what I would start for myself. People say it a lot, but making something out of nothing is tremendously rewarding. Having to struggle to know what I don’t know is tough, but each little success is that much sweeter for it.

 

Describe your perfect meal (including dessert).

My perfect meal would be anything from the sea – preferably on the boat of the fisherman who caught it, immediately after they caught it. Bonus points for crustaceans and shellfish. I would even forgo the dessert for some more fresh seafood, but if my host is not amenable, I would accept an artisanal cheese course.

 

Who or what inspires you in the kitchen? 

Lisa Gavan (c) 2014
Cami Ross (c) 2014

I usually find my inspiration in the kitchen from whatever we throw on the iPod. A few days ago I was especially inspired by Elton John’s greatest hits album. “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” really gets me through a tedious session of caramel wrapping, and the accompanying booty shaking is probably super inspiring for whomever is watching the security videos in the kitchen. I also have a couple of pretty entertaining helpers – affectionately referred to as “Oompa Loompas” – who keep me going in and out of the kitchen.

If you could ship these caramels to anyone in the world, who would you choose and why?

I certainly wouldn’t turn down a Colbert Bump from Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.

What can we expect next from Bad Habit Caramels?

Our next big goals are to set up our own kitchen space and to build our mobile pop up shop so we can travel around to farmers markets, community events, fairs, festivals, or wherever in the world is most in need of caramels. It’s the least we can do for society.

Connect with Bad Habit Caramels: 

badhabitcaramels.com

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